Preston Clive
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Dear Mr. Cuomo: End My Fracking Agony!

People on the New York side of the border peek at Pennsylvania to see what Making Money looks like.(H. Cartier Bresson)

by Preston Clive

One of the most bizarre scenarios to wash through the storied economic history of the state of New York is playing out these days, and it concerns those territories running along the southern border of the state--the other side of which lies Pennsylvania.

At issue is this: these communities are deathly poor. Dilapidated, Often downright squalid. Rusting wheel-less tractors from a distant past, crumbling into red dust on old cinderblocks. Leaning boards separating from one another on peeling barns built over a century ago. Fields lying fallow, no money flowing through local economy besides little drips and drabs from tiny shops and the other stores that do business with them.

And underneath these communities--such as Allegheny, Oswego, Cuyuga, and many others--lies a mine of money: shale gas. There are known quantities of Utica and Marcellus shale running right beneath these farms and stretches of otherwise dead land--but nobody can get at them or even think about touching them.

Why?

Because Governor Cuomo has instituted a ban on hyrdraulic fracturing--otherwise known as the highly demonized Fracking. That's why. The citizens sit there gazing longingly over the state border to Pennsylvania where fracking is not only permitted but encouraged. Billions of dollars of revenue have been injected into the local Penn coffers and roughly 30,000 jobs have been created as a result of the flourishing industry. 

Thusly, one can certainly sympathize with a man like Dan Fitzsimmons, a man who posesses 185 acres in the region in question on the NYS side of the the border. He is sitting on known deposits. He knows almost beyond doubt that fracking would see his family raking in millions of dollars in royalties from leases with gas companies. But he can't move a muscle owing to the Cuomo ban on fracking--thus, his fortune, right there in his grasp, is a mirage for now. Out of reach. A phantom of prosperity and good dreams that can't seem to come true.

It's a frustration that's not hard to imagine.

"We had a lot of dreams for our land. I can't do those things, that income is there, I could have it -- but the governor stopped us," Fitzsimmons said in a recent interview with the local Fox station on the subject a couple of days ago.

As a result of the frustration of Fitzimmons and many others like him all feeling the same frustration--as they all are sitting on a natural resource that they would like to exploit for their profit and turn their towns around--there is talk of the one feasible way that they can reverse the situation while Cuomo is still in office: secession from the state of New York. According to the Fox article:

 Conklin (another southern border region sitting on rich deposits) town supervisor Jim Finch has proposed that his town and others secede from New York and join Pennsylvania. Tom Sinclair, a professor of public administration at Binghamton University just north of Conklin, says it would be possible to secede.

"If the state of New York legislature and the state of Pennsylvania's legislature agree to this transfer it could happen. As a practical matter it would be much more difficult," said Sinclair, adding that he doubts the New York general assembly would ever approve it.

In Conklin they hope Gov. Cuomo changes his decision. Furniture restorer Al Fortunato is tired of watching people lose their jobs and move. He says Gov. Cuomo "needs to pay more attention to the Southern Tier and forget about New York City and get some money, income up here and help us out."

The reason--need one be given?--for Cuomo's opposition to fracking is simple: environmental repercussions that the Governor, his health managers, and the public believe would be a result of extensive drilling in the region. Predictable, the discussion has deteriorated into a meltdown pitting left versus right, with science in the middle being torn hither and yon. An example Op Ed from Forbes:

Due to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent hydraulic fracturing ban, much of this natural gas development has occurred, and will remain, just south of New York in neighboring Pennsylvania. Political pressure from far left environmental groups was so incendiary that they convinced New York officials to forgo the 25,000 jobs that would result from developing the state’s natural gas. In order to justify its ban, New York relied on a number of “scientific studies,” one of which linked hydraulic fracturing to birth defects.

The problem is, according to Steve Everly writing for Forbes, the study in question “was based on data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, whose executive director immediately disavowed the study.”Everly continues:

As was documented in the New York Times, the paper received press attention because New Yorkers Against Fracking hired a public affairs firm to pitch the findings to reporters—before the paper had even gone through the peer-review process. Experts interviewed by the Times said the paper was “devoid of meaningful data” and a “badly suspect piece of work.” One expert actually said he would be “amazed if it gets published at a reputable journal.

None of this mattered to Gov. Cuomo or his anti-fracking allies. Junk science was simply a means to an end – generating misleading headlines to influence public opinion in favor of banning fracking in New York.

Is there any momentum to start tearing up New York State and ripping into the shale bed to sniff out profitable odors? Not beyond the vested industrial interests and the people who live in the region under discussion who want to lease their otherwise bleak land. The vast majority of the people of New York are against it, and in that sense (you can't grant a regional permit because you feel bad for a couple of economically depressed counties; it's either legal in the state or it's not .  .  . thus the statewide floodgates would be opened once a go-ahead was received) it's likely not to pass. It would be a bit of strictly social-economic engineering specifically to prop up some old communities .  .  .  but the last thing the country needs right now, amid this record-setting boom of a glut of fuel, is more shale gas. We have too much of the stuff, to the degree that jobs are being peeled away from the energy business nationwide.

But I feel their pain out there in those communities .  .  .   "East Berlin/West Berlin" rhetoric about the New York/Pennsyvania sides of the border from Karen Moreau aside.

Preston Clive  

3/9/2015***